The first thing Nick Janovich, Oglebay’s golf course superintendent and ski area manager, wants you to know about the ski slope at the Nutting Winter Sports Complex is that he can’t just whip up a batch of snow when it’s cold. He knows that falling temperatures mean people pull out their skis and snowboards and want to head up the hill. But it’s a little more complicated than just flipping a switch on the snow guns. Atmospheric conditions have to be just right to make snow.
THE FORMULA FOR SNOWMAKING
“We can make snow, generally speaking, anytime it’s under 28 degrees,” he said. “But, there’s a little bit more to it than that. It depends on the humidity and the air temperature. So, if we have high humidity, we need to be in that 24-25 [degree] range. If we have low humidity, then we can be in the 20 to 30 range. So generally, we say 28 degrees, but it really depends on the humidity as well, not just the air temperature.”
Janovich has been managing the slopes since 2004 when the Nutting Winter Sports Complex opened after a long hiatus. Many of us remember riding the Poma lift in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, and it was always a hilarious adventure. Since then, the complex has been upgraded into a modern ski facility where locals and Oglebay guests can spend an afternoon, a day or a whole weekend in the snow. I have video footage of my 3-year-old son in 2008, tucked safely between his grandfather’s knees as they head down the slope for the first time. It’s an Ohio Valley winter rite of passage.
Snowmaking was minimal in the old days, but the ski area now has nine snow guns ready to go when conditions are right, and the team waits for those conditions. While we at home are watching the television for icy roads or school closures, Janovich and the Oglebay team keep an eye on the numbers. Once the weatherman gives them the go-ahead, they know they’ll probably be up all night making snow.
“We monitor the weather days in advance,” Janovich said. “And we will get staff here primarily during overnight shift. So we really try to make the most snow then.” They’ll make it during the day, too, if conditions continue to be favorable. Whenever the slope is open, two snow-makers are on the job.
“They’re trained on how to make snow and then they will fire the guns up,” he said. “What that entails is blending water and air together. A lot of people think we use chemicals, but that isn’t true. We take air and compress it so it’s super high-velocity, and we blend it with fine particles of water.” While a nature-made snowflake is thin and delicate, manmade snow is rounder and tougher — essentially, it’s an ice pellet — and it holds up better in variable conditions.
The groomer and snow cat — equipment designed for snow and slope maintenance — need a base of about two feet of snow to do their jobs. When poor snow-making weather arrives in the form of rain or slush, the snow team knows how to stockpile what’s already on the slopes. Then they can move it around and even it out as needed. Janovich was uneasy about the warm, heavy rain predicted the day after the interview and how it might affect the ski slope, but the team is experienced.
SNOW TUBERS WELCOME
Oglebay introduced snow tubing last year.
“People really liked the idea, to the point where we had to have reservation lists and turn people away,” Janovich said.
The snowmaking requirements for tubing are greater than for skiing. At present, the ski area doesn’t have the water or electricity to make snow on both the ski slope and the tubing area at the same time. Oglebay skiers and boarders of all ages tend to be quite loyal to the hill, so the team prioritizes the ski slope. Weekends, evenings, holidays and snow days bring out the teens, and Janovich can appreciate their zeal and their devotion to Oglebay, as he grew up on that slope.
As for tubing, the crew anticipates snowmaking on the tubing hill very soon.
“Hopefully within a few weeks,” he said.
If you or your kids want to learn or improve, Oglebay offers ski and snowboard clinics every Saturday morning. The group lesson includes rentals for the day and a 10 percent discount on a lift ticket if you wish to stay after the lesson. Janovich believes it’s perfect for first-timers who want to learn, and for a more intensive experience, private lessons offer one-on-one time with an instructor. This is a great way to prepare your kids for their first ski trip.
“This is a fantastic place to learn,” he said. “We love to see the kids that grow up here and learn to ski here in the evenings, and then they go out, and they have fun at the larger resorts and even go out west and whatnot.”
Oglebay has a talented group of ski and snowboard instructors and is always looking for more, particularly snowboard instructors. (Contact the ski lodge for more information if you’re interested.)
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The rental shop has all-new equipment this year, and the guys in the shop are good at what they do. Whether you’re an expert or a first-timer, they can get you fitted. You’ll also find that the lift operators watch riders carefully and can stop the lift in an instant to offer assistance. (One kind soul recently spotted my 8-year-old riding up the lift with only one ski. He was there to stop the lift and grab the boy when he reached the top.) Employees have even been heard reminding children to wear warm socks and lots of layers.
Many parents drop their teens off at the slopes; it’s a great way to spend a day off from school. So it’s good to know that all of the employees, from the lift operators to the rental shop employees to the cashiers, are trained in CPR and first aid, and they know how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). That said, it’s always appropriate to accompany your young child on the slope or watch from the warmth of the lodge.
UPGRADES FOR RELAXERS AND RACERS
For lodge-dwellers, skiers and boarders, Janovich and the team have been working to create a relaxing space outside. They’ll soon be enhancing the fire pit area, which was recently outfitted with high tables. You’ll be able to sit by the fire with hot chocolate, listen to music and enjoy the scenery.
Another new and exciting change is a race course sponsored by Alpine Skis and Boards. Most large ski resorts have youth ski racing.
“It’s probably going to be held on Saturday afternoons,” Janovich said. “People will be able to compete on a national level if they are a successful racer, so you can race right here on our little hill and then that will feed into the larger program for the racing on a national level. That’s going to be a big improvement this year, and we’ll really start running with it next year.”
Janovich expects racing to begin soon.
As for the future, Janovich envisions a more substantial terrain park. That means talking with younger snowboarders to get their input.
“It’s about getting the kids together and really trying to iron out what they want,” he said. “We’ve moved through a generation of snowboarders. They’re a really passionate group, and they’ve kind of grown up, so now we’re into this next group. So we’re really trying to identify what they want and what their needs are and get that in place for next year.”
A YEAR-ROUND JOB
I remember skiing at Oglebay in the ’80s and ’90s when the only way up the hill was the Poma lift installed in 1963. You had to grab a moving pole with a disc on the end and put it between your legs without sitting down or falling down. The tricky beast had to be ridden with care. In 2004, when the Nutting Winter Sports Complex reopened with a triple chair lift and improved snowmaking, it not only benefited local snow-sports enthusiasts (as well as the uncoordinated), but it also gave the golf course crew a reason to stick around in the winter.
Janovich, who manages the courses in the warmer months, said, “I like the idea of skiing because it keeps our staff employed. Most golf courses in the area lay most of their staff off in the winter and then rehire everybody in the summer. We keep a lot of our staff on because of this.” Depending on the spring and fall weather, Oglebay staff may find themselves tending to both the slopes and the greens in the same week.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Winter may feel long, but ski season goes by quickly. Sometimes it’s hard to get to out-of-town resorts for the weekend, and trips out west are expensive. Oglebay offers an afternoon of fun with the kids or an after-work night-ski. It’s right here in our backyard, and the crew has the slopes covered and ready. Get up there.
More information about the ski area — including tubing — can be found on Oglebay’s website, along with hours, lessons and rental information. You’ll also learn about season passes and combo passes. Call 304-243-4049 for lessons and clinic information. Current slope conditions are listed on the site, or call the Ski Hotline at 304-243-4177 for the daily report.
• Laura Jackson Roberts is a freelance writer in Wheeling, W.Va. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University and writes about nature and the environment. Her work has recently appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, Vandaleer, Animal, Matador Network, Defenestration, The Higgs Weldon and the Erma Bombeck humor site. Laura is the Northern Panhandle representative for West Virginia Writers, a blog editor for Literary Mama Magazine and a member of Ohio Valley Writers. She recently finished her first book of humor. Laura lives in Wheeling with her husband and their sons. Visit her online at www.laurajacksonroberts.com.
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